In the latest setback of a miserable season, Andy Murray has dropped his plans to participate in the French Open — which starts a fortnight today — after experiencing a recurrence of groin pain while training in Rome.
His intention now is to make an early start in his grass-court preparation in order to be as ready as possible for Queen’s and Wimbledon — the two most productive tournaments of his career. Clearly, he will first have to overcome this lingering and mysterious groin problem, which first surfaced just before the Miami Open in March.
Murray travelled out to Rome a week ago to test himself in a series of practice sessions with leading players. He is understood to have taken Novak Djokovic to a tie-break in their unofficial set last Sunday, and also made a late entry into the doubles event as an alternate, playing alongside Liam Broady. Together, they showed strength of character to come back and eliminate Luke Saville and Max Purcell in the first round.
But after going out in the second round to Kevin Kravietz and Horia Tecau, Murray was equivocal during an interview with the Press Association. “Today didn't feel that great on the court,” he said. “I didn't play that well in comparison to yesterday.”
The original intention had been to enter one of the two ATP 250 events next week, either in Geneva or Lyon, but that idea has been dropped. Clay has always been a difficult surface for Murray, whereas grass is his preferred environment, and he will no doubt be trying to convince himself that this last-minute rescheduling could work in his favour.
The last time he made a late withdrawal from the French Open was in 2013, after a bout of back trouble in Rome. He wound up winning his first Wimbledon a month later.
Yet the reality of this latest unfortunate development is that Murray has now appeared in only four majors since he first dropped off the tour in 2017, on account of his arthritic right hip. He has won just two grand-slam matches in that time, both at the US Open.
Since having that joint “resurfaced” in January 2019 — which meant the insertion of a metal rod in the top of the femur, which slots into a metal socket in his pelvis — Murray has been determined to prove that he can become the first singles player to compete successfully with a bionic hip. (Bob Bryan was able to extend his career substantially in the doubles arena, which is significantly less physically demanding.)
But the evidence is beginning to suggest that this may be an impossible dream, even if Murray has had some terrible luck along the way.
He will certainly be ruing the Covid-19 infection he suffered while feeling in otherwise strong physical shape in January, which kept him out of the Australian Open. Every time he misses a major tournament, he must wonder if he will ever play there again.